Humboldt General Hospital's goal is simple: to provide local residents with the best care possible-right here close to home. Historically, though, that hasn't always been as easy as it sounds.
According to Winnemucca historian J.P. Marden, in the early days of Humboldt County, if people became seriously ill, they would simply suffer and die; there was very little that could be done to save them.
Most of the medicines available at that time were ineffective, and sanitary conditions for operations and other treatments were non-existent. Even doctors lacked any kind of bona fide credentials; instead, all they had to do was hang out a shingle and they were in the business of health care.
Marden said, "Before the first hospital was opened in Winnemucca, it was very common for the sick and injured to be treated at home or in one of the local hotels." Marden said with the low level of expertise of doctors at that time, there were many who died in these local hotels, including the Winnemucca Hotel which registered more than 100 deaths in those early days.
While Marden said no one knows for sure when the first Winnemucca hospital was built, he said by 1886, a facility was in operation on the north side of East Second Street near Second Street's crossing with the Water Canyon Creek. "Under modern standards it wasn't much," said Marden, "but at the time it was all Humboldt County had in the way of advanced medical care."
Marden provided the following description of the hospital, which was published in Humboldt County's newspaper, The Silver State, in 1897 after a reporter was given the grand tour of the facility by Superintendent James Hurst and his wife.
"The hospital is at present full to its utmost capacity, and I must say that it does not take more than 16 people to leave standing room at a premium. The building is but a small structure, consisting of six rooms in all, and is entirely too small and too crowded for any kind of comfort or convenience, but although I noticed five beds in one room and as many in another, I was struck with their cleanliness and the fine condition in which everything was kept."
Still, it did take some time for the idea of a local hospital to establish itself firmly in the minds of residents. This week, National Hospital Week, actually resulted from such fears when a magazine editor, concerned that the public perceived hospitals as places shrouded in secrecy, suggested hosting an annual celebration in honor of hospitals. But according to the following, perhaps residents' misgivings had more to do with medical practices at the time rather than hospital facilities themselves.
Marden pointed to a Silver State article that records that in 1892, Charles Neale had his hands severely burned and was admitted to the county hospital for care. His doctor, Dr. Cartwright, decided that two of his fingers were healing too slowly and would have to be amputated. According to the report, "The operation was performed in the twinkling of an eye and without the administration of chloroform to the patient."
Marden said that as Winnemucca grew into the 20th Century, it became apparent that the hospital on Second Street would no longer serve the needs of the community. He said, "By 1907, the Humboldt County Board of Commissioners became somewhat improvement minded and decided that a new jail and a new hospital were needed to better care for the citizens of the county.
Officials took their first step toward improved health care in the community when they purchased land on what was then called East Railroad Street, but which would soon become known as Haskell Street-the same property that houses Humboldt General Hospital today.
Money woes were common then even as they are today. When the hospital first went to bid in October of that year, the two bids received were rejected as too high; both were for just over $15,000. "It is apparent that the commissioners wanted to join the 20th Century," said Marden, "but it was not going to be at just any cost." Eventually the money problems were ironed out, however, and D. I. LaPoint was awarded the contract in April 1908.
By the end of August, the hospital was nearly complete; patients moved in that December. Marden provided the following excerpt from The Humboldt Star which describes the new facility: "The building is a handsome structure and is a great credit to Humboldt County. The hospital is constructed of brick and is 50 x 70 feet in size and two stories high with colonial porch.
"On the upper floor there are nine large wards, with bathrooms and clothes closets for the patients. The lower floor contains two living rooms for the superintendent, the operating room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, drug room, a bathroom and four large wards. Besides the rooms described there are large lobbies . . . . The new hospital contains nothing but first-class material . . ."
Over the ensuing years, Marden said a number of improvements were made to the building, including the addition of a screen porch in 1913, as well as a large elevator that was used to lift and lower patients. A new bathroom with two toilets was added upstairs to better accommodate the patients and the staff, and an old shed at the rear of the hospital was converted. One half became a laundry facility while the other was transformed into an ice house and refrigerator room.
More expansions took place in 1936, 1942 and 1962. Finally, in 1973, a new hospital building was erected on a section of property east of the old hospital between Harmony and Mizpah streets. Extensive remodeling, modifications and additions were carried out beginning in 1993. Those changes also resulted in a new extended care facility, Harmony Manor, which almost fills the area where the old Humboldt General Hospital stood along Harmony Street.
Over the next 10 years, the hospital's growth had less to do with physical construction and more to do with technological expansion. Over that time period, Humboldt General added new MRI, C-Scan and Ultrasound machines as well as a new $2 million computer system which integrated all hospital systems under one network.
In July 2010, Humboldt General Hospital broke ground on a 35,860-square-foot expansion that saw the addition of a medical office building to the front of the existing hospital structure as well as a smaller expansion of some departments.
In all, eight medical office suites were added to the new first- and second-story space offers a central reception and scheduling area. The impressive new addition to the hospital campus is constructed of glass, brick and steel, offering a contemporary feel that blends nicely with all previous hospital construction.
Humboldt General Hospital CEO/Administrator Jim Parrish said the hospital will continue to assess local residents' health needs with an eye toward expansion. "Now it's time to look at the next 100 years," he said.